A conversation with two female veterans

When I first met Sara and Alicia, I got a sense of quiet strength and fierce confidence. The two thirty-something friends have both been through a lot in their lives, but refuse to let that stop them.

When I spoke to Sara and Alicia I was learning about a small, organic farm that they run together. It wasn’t until later that I learned the two young women are both veterans. It is that very humble and giving attitude that makes them both so special.

Sara, an air force veteran and military wife, lost her husband to cancer three years ago. It was during his sickness that Sara and her husband started looking in to a diet based in healthy foods- vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts and grains.

After her husband passed away, Sara purchased a farm, like the two of them had envisioned doing together. It was during this time that she began to realize the healing power of producing food. Working with her hands to grow food and take care of animals was beginning to help heal her physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Sara met Alicia during a conference for veterans learning how to farm. After the conference, Alicia packed her bags and moved states to work with Sara on the farm.

Both women have seen the struggles of veterans when returning from deployment. Alicia, a combat veteran, learned firsthand the transition to civilian life is tough. After losing military friends to suicide after deployment, she wanted to find a way to heal and eventually learned that agriculture was a way to do that, she said.

Today the operation is a small-scale sustainable farming business that has sheep, pastured chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, beehives, apples, pears, strawberries, peaches, a garden full of vegetables and more.

Sara and Alicia have grown the operation to become a place of healing for others as well. They offer education and training opportunities to veterans who want to get involved.

“Seeing veterans connect with the land and build relationships with animals is magic,” Alicia said. “So much about being in the military involves destruction, but in agriculture you get to heal things.”

A look at some of the questions:

What is a challenge you have faced?

The industry can feel male-dominated. However, there is a growing trend of women farmland owners and we’re happy to be a part of that. It’s pretty special.

Advice you have to others:

Band together. A lot of times there is sexism in farming, or in any industry for that matter. It’s OK to have a voice.

Goals for the future:

Continue to work with the land and hope that other veterans will be able to reconnect with themselves through farming like we have.

Click here for more conversations.

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A conversation with a POW

When I started talking with Mr. Burks, I didn’t know a lot about him. I knew he was a veteran and I knew he was going to be the Grand Marshall in this year’s Veterans Day parade. After speaking with him, I found there was a lot more to the 91-year-old.

Burks, a former prisoner of war and World War II veteran, went in to the U.S. Air Force in 1940 and was a B-17 bomber pilot in Europe. He was 18 years old at the time.

He spent one year in a POW camp after being shot down in Germany. During that year, he spent time at two different POW camps, one of which was Stalag 13. He recalls being shot down April 22, 1944. Eventually, Burks and two other pilots escape from the POW camp and spent one month on the run.

“We had to travel at night, stay in wooded areas during the daytime and sneak around until we could meet up with American forces,” he said.

Burks said they were brought back home in 1945. When he returned, he spent five years with a local police department before becoming a U.S. Marshal.

During his time as a U.S. Marshal, he played a role in the civil rights movement. Burks took part in more than one dozen school integrations.

In fact, Burks is one of the U.S. Marshals depicted in the 1960s Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by U.S. Marshals.

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Later Burks was assigned to the U.S. Marshals office in New Orleans. He also took part in integration of the University of Mississippi and at universities in Georgia and Alabama.

After 20 years as a U.S. Marshal, Burks retired. He spent 15 years in New Orleans and then came back to Indiana where is involved with both the Legion and VFW.

Before the event, Burks said it was his first time doing anything like leading a parade but he was looking forward to it.

The crowd who appeared on the sidewalks to celebrate Veterans Day and watch the parade, led by Burks, was a wonderful site to see. Others were able to not only honor Veterans, who put their life on the line, but thank them for their services.

The Veterans Day events were concluded after a speaker said: “A common bond veterans have is the willingness to die for their country… without freedom, life loses much of its meaning.”

So thank you, veterans. Thank you for everything you do. And thank you Mr. Burks for sharing some of your story with me.

Read other conversations here.

A conversation with a fly-fisherman

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This week I had the pleasure of talking to Eric, a 26-year-old guy who wants to open up his own fly-fishing guide service in Jackson, Wyoming or New Orleans.

Eric isn’t a stranger to twenty something life-altering changes. He packed up his blazer and moved 1800 miles away from home when he was  21 years old. He hasn’t let anything stop him from following his dreams and he plans to continue working to make them come true.

Eric, an Ind. native, who has lived in Jackson, Tucson, Ariz., and  Baton Rouge, La., is taking classes to complete a business degree so he can learn everything he needs to open his business.

He said accounting has been the most helpful and he plans to focus on small-business classes before wrapping up his degree.

He first got in to fly-fishing when he was 17 years old.

“I saw ‘A River Runs Through It’ and liked it,” he said. “I decided to try it before a big fishing trip to Michigan and have been ever since.”

He said his favorite part of having the business would be being able to be outside all day.

When asked what the hardest thing about fly-fishing was, he said ‘All of it. The patience is the hardest, but it’s probably the best thing about it too.’

He admits he sticks with it because it’s addicting.

The best advice he ever received was from a coworker, Dan Sowers, who helped show him all the spots to fish and how to read the water in Jackson.

The worst piece of advice he received was when he was in a drift boat in a river in Jackson and even though it looked like there was a complete log jam across the river he was told there was a wide enough gap to get through. He dropped everyone out on the bank and went through it by himself, without a life jacket, and said the drift boat was ‘like a pin ball machine going through the gap and I screamed like a girl,’ he said.

Eric said the scariest thing he has ever done is move to Jackson alone when he was 21. He said moving west is also his proudest accomplishment.

In Jackson he worked as a fly-fish guide, camp jack at hunting camp, snow mobile guide in Yellowstone during the winter and participated in activities at a ranch as well.

“What I remember the most is the campfires, hanging out with people and fishing with my friends Myles, Dan, Todd and Zach,” he said.

He said he fished every day in the summer and every once in awhile in the winter.

August or September is his favorite time to fish because it’s hopper (grass hopper) season.

“You use big flies and big fish go dumb for big hoppers,” he said.

Since moving west, he has developed more of an environmental viewpoint.

“I like stories about helping the environment, dam removal and more,” he said.

Although he said  fisherman don’t share their favorite fishing spots, he said he has fly-fished in Jackson, Louisiana, New Zealand, Michigan, Idaho and Indiana.

“The spots I fish rarely are fished, so I usually have the river to myself,” he said. “I don’t want to give my spots away.”

Advice he has for other twenty-somethings is to do what they have a passion for.

“Stick with it and don’t be afraid to go against what other people think is normal,” he said.

A look at some of the questions: 
Favorite fish you’ve caught?
A Red fish in Louisiana. it took us five days to catch it because the conditions were so bad
Biggest fish?
Also a red fish. It was probably 12 pounds.  
Do you have a favorite fish?
Cutthroat trout
What is something you had while fishing in Jackson? 
I always carried bear spray. I never had to use it, but I tested it to see what it would do one time and it was an orange plume that shot 30 feet out.
What is your dream job?
CEO of Patagonia
When did you first know you wanted to be able to fly-fish daily?
My first day in Jackson in 2007
Where do you get your inspiration ?
I really like Yvon Chouinard’s story (he founded Patagonia)
What is something scary that happened while fishing? 
I was walking along the edge once and didn’t realize the ground was brittle. I slid 30 feet down the side of a hill and landed in the water. 

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Blog makeover

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Hello, all.  You may or may not notice my blog has a new appearance. I’ve added a new layout as well as changed my blog name and tag line. A little feng shui can go a long way. My blog was previously named Hoosier Twenty Something. I am still very much a Hoosier Twenty Something, but I’ve created a blog with a more consistent theme.

Feel free to look at my “about me” section for more information or scroll through some of my blog posts.